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GIs Remember - Kenneth Colvin - Ebensee

Kenneth Colvin volunteered for the Army in San Francisco, served as a surgical technician in the 515th Medical Clearing Company and was involved in the liberation of eight labor camps and one concentration camp.

"We had no forewarning of what we were going to see; we had only heard that such things existed. Yet we were witnesses to the most heinous crimes ever committed by mankind. I still, to this day, dream about it.

My arrival at the Ebensee Concentration Camp in Austria was a moment that changed my life. I went through a barbed wire gate and everybody in our outfit was literally stunned; no one talked. In front of me I could see the crematoria, these huge chimneys reaching up into the sky, spewing the remains of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children, covering the countryside with this horrible ash.

People who had not yet been cremated were naked, stripped of their hair and of the gold in their teeth; they were stripped of the dignity of death itself.

Looking at the emaciated survivors, it was impossible to allow ourselves to feel, because we would have all crashed I contained those feelings many, many years.

The survivors looked bewildered in their striped uniforms, and had staring looks on their faces. I could speak a little Yiddish and German, enough to understand one man telling me: 'All my family from Poland is dead. The only thing that has kept me alive for six years in these camps has been Eretz Yisrael, the thought of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine.' "

Colvin wrote a letter that night to his rabbi in San Francisco about how this experience had 'given his whole life definition,' and how he knew now why Jews needed a homeland.

Mr. Colvin pledged to work for that cause, not only for himself but mainly for that man who was in that wooden bunk in the barracks at Ebensee.

GIs RememberNational Museum of American Jewish Military History